Three New Constitutions

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written February 1848


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 6, p. 540;
Written: in the middle of February 1848;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, February 20, 1848.

Our predictions concerning the imminent triumph of the bourgeoisies are in fact being fulfilled more rapidly than we could have expected. In less than a fortnight three absolute monarchies have been transformed into constitutional states: Denmark, Naples and Sardinia.

The movement in Italy has developed with remarkable rapidity. The Papal State, Tuscany and Sardinia in succession took their place at its head; one country impelled the next further and further, one advance always brought another in its wake. The Italian Customs Union [1] was the first step towards constituting the Italian bourgeoisie, which decisively took the lead in the national movement and came daily more into collision with Austria. The bourgeoisie had achieved almost everything which could be achieved under an absolute monarchy, and a representative constitution daily became a more pressing necessity for it. But the winning of constitutional institutions — this was precisely the difficulty for the Italian bourgeoisie. The princes were reluctant; the bourgeoisie dared not confront them too threateningly as it did not want to throw them into the arms of Austria again. The Italians of the Customs Union might have gone on waiting for a long time, when help suddenly came to them from a quite unexpected quarter — Sicily rebelled; the people of Palermo drove the royal troops out of the city with unprecedented bravery, [Palermo with 200,000 inhabitants defeated 13,000 men. Paris with a million inhabitants defeated 7,000 to 8,000 men in the July revolution] the people of Abruzzi, Apulia and Calabria attempted a new insurrection, Naples itself prepared for battle, and Ferdinand the bloodhound, pressed from all sides, with no hope of obtaining Austrian troops, was the first of all the Italian princes to have to grant a constitution and complete freedom of the press. The news reached Genoa and Turin; both cities demanded that Sardinia should not lag behind Naples; Charles Albert, too involved in the movement to withdraw, and also in need of money on account of armament against Austria — had to yield to the very emphatic representations of Turin and Genoa and similarly grant a constitution. There is no doubt at all that Tuscany must follow, and that Pius IX himself will have to make new concessions.

The Italian bourgeoisie has gained its decisive victory in the streets of Palermo. It is now victorious; what will ensue can only be the exploitation of this victory in all respects and the securing of its results against Austria.

This victory of the Italian bourgeoisie is again a defeat for Austria. How old Metternich must have gnashed his teeth in rage — the man who saw the Neapolitan revolution coming from afar, who again and again begged the Pope and Tuscany for permission to march his troops across their territories, and who nonetheless had to hold back his Pandours and Croats on the Po! One courier after another came to him from Naples; Ferdinand, Cocle and Del Carretto were screaming for help, and Metternich, who in 1823[2] and 1831[3] had reigned so omnipotently in Italy, could do nothing. He had to look on quietly and see his last, his most reliable ally defeated and humiliated in Italy, and the whole weight of Naples placed on the scales against Austria thanks to a revolution. And he had a hundred and fifty thousand men waiting on the Pol But England was there, and had the Austrians crossed the Po, it would have been the signal for the occupation of Venice and the bombardment of Trieste — and so Metternich’s hangmen had to stand still and watch with their rifles in their hands while Naples was snatched from them.

England’s conduct in the whole Italian affair has been very proper. While the other great powers, France as much as Russia, have done everything to support Metternich, England has taken its place, quite alone, on the side of the Italian movement. The English bourgeoisie has the greatest interest in thwarting an Austro-Italian protective customs union and conversely in bringing about an anti-Austrian customs union in Italy based on free trade. For this reason it supports the Italian bourgeoisie, which for the time being itself still needs free trade for its development, and which is therefore the natural ally of the English bourgeoisie.

In the meantime Austria is arming. These armaments are completely ruining its finances. Austria has no money, and it has turned to Rothschild for a loan; Rothschild has declared that he does not want a war and will not, therefore, provide any money in support of war. Indeed, is there any banker who will still advance money to the rotten Austrian monarchy for a war in which a country like England may involve itself? Metternich can thus no longer count on the bourgeoisie. He turns to the Emperor of Russia who, in the last few years, has also become a great capitalist, thanks to the mines of the Ural and Altai regions and to the corn trade — to the white Tsar, who has already once helped Frederick William IV with 15 million silver rubles, and who in general seems to be turning into the Rothschild of all declining absolute monarchies. Tsar Nicholas is said to have granted 75 millions — in return for a Russian percentage, it goes without saying, and on good security. All the better. If the Tsar has to cover the expenses of the Prussian and Austrian monarchies in addition to his own, if his money is wasted on arming unsuccessfully against Italy, then his treasure will soon be exhausted.

Will Austria risk a war? We hardly think so. Its finances are chaotic; Hungary is in full ferment, Bohemia is not secure; on the battlefield itself, in Lombardy, guerillas would spring up everywhere. And more than anything else the fear of England will restrain Metternich. At this moment Lord Palmerston is the most powerful man in Europe; his decision determines the issue, and this time his decision has been made known clearly enough.

At quite the other end of Europe, in Denmark, a king [Christian VIII] dies. His son [Frederick VII], a coarse, jovial schnapps-tippler, immediately convokes an assembly of notables, a committee of the estates, in order to deliberate upon a common constitution for the Duchies [Schleswig and Holstein] and Denmark. And so that the Germans shall disgrace themselves everywhere, the Duchies have to declare that they do not want this constitution, because it would mean their being torn away from their common German homeland! [4]

It is really too ridiculous. The Duchies have a considerably smaller population than Denmark, and yet the number of their representatives is to be the same. Their language is to have equal rights in the assembly, in the official records, in everything. In short, the Danes make every possible concession to the Germans, and the Germans persist in their absurd national obstinacy. The Germans have never been national-minded where the interests of nationality and the interests of progress have coincided; they were always so where nationality has turned against progress. Where it was important to be national-minded, they played the cosmopolitans; where it was important not to be directly national-minded, they were so to the point of absurdity. In every case they made themselves ridiculous.

Either the inhabitants of the Duchies are capable people, and more advanced than the Danes — in which case they will obtain preponderance over the Danes in the chamber of estate deputies and have no reason for complaint; or else they are German sluggards and lag behind the Danes in industrial and political development, in which case it is high time they were taken in tow by the Danes. But it is really too absurd for these upright Schleswig-Holsteiners to beg the 40 million Germans to help them against the Danes and to refuse to take up their positions on a battlefield where they can fight with the same advantages as their opponents; it is too absurd that they should appeal to the police of the German Confederation[5] against a constitution.

The Danish constitution is as much a blow against Prussia as the Neapolitan against Austria, although in itself it is only a reaction to abortive Prussian constitutional experiment of February 3 .300 As a further addition to its many embarrassments the Prussian government now has received a new constitutional state as neighbour; at the same time it loses a faithful protegé and ally.

While Italy and Denmark have thus stepped into the ranks of the constitutional states, Germany lags behind. Every nation is moving forward, the smallest, weakest nations are always able to find a point in the European complications which enables them in spite of their big reactionary neighbours to win for themselves one modern institution after another. Only the 40 million Germans never bestir themselves. It is true that they are no longer asleep, but they still only talk and bluster, they have yet to act.

But if the German governments were to set any great hopes on the bourgeoisie’s fear of action, then they would be very much deceiving themselves. The Germans are the last in line because their revolution will be quite different from the Sicilian. The German bourgeois and the philistines know very well that behind them ‘stands a daily growing proletariat which on the day after the revolution will put forward quite different demands than they themselves desire. The German bourgeois and philistines therefore behave in a cowardly, indecisive and vacillating manner — they fear a conflict not less than they fear the government.

A German revolution is far more serious than a Neapolitan revolution. In Naples there is a confrontation only between Austria and England; in a German revolution the whole of the East and the

whole of the West will confront each other. A Neapolitan revolution will achieve its aim as soon as downright bourgeois institutions have been won; a German revolution will only really begin when it has got this far.

For this reason the Germans must first of all be thoroughly compromised in the eyes of all other nations, they must become, more than they are already, the laughing-stock of all Europe, they must be compelled to make the revolution. But then they will really arise, not the cowardly German burghers but the German workers; they will rise up, put an end to the whole filthy, muddled official German rule and with a radical revolution restore the honour of Germany.

  1. In November 1847 the King of Sardinia, the Pope and the Duke of Tuscany agreed to convene a conference of Italian states to form a Customs Union. The project of a Customs Union met the interests of the bourgeois circles which strove to unite [lie country “from above” in the form of a federation of states under the Pope or the Savoy dynasty. However, this plan was frustrated by the 1848-49 revolution in Italy and its defeat in 1849
  2. In July 1820 the carbonari, aristocratic and bourgeois revolutionaries, rose in revolt against the absolutist regime in the Kingdom of Naples and succeeded in having a moderate liberal constitution introduced. In March 1821, a revolt took place in the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont). The liberals who headed it proclaimed a constitution and attempted to make use of the anti-Austrian movement in Northern Italy for the unification of the country under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty then in power in Piedmont. Interference by the powers of the Holy Alliance and the occupation of Naples and Piedmont by Austrian troops led to the restoration of absolutist regimes in both states.
  3. In the beginning of February 1831, revolts took place in a number of provinces of the Papal states — Romagna, Marca and Umbria — and also the dukedoms of Modena and Parma. They were instigated by the carbonari, members of bourgeois and aristocratic revolutionary secret societies. In the course of this bourgeois revolution in Central Italy an attempt was made to abolish the absolute monarchy (in Modena and Parma), to deprive the Pope of temporal power (in Romagna) and to form a new, larger state — an Alignment of Italian Provinces. The revolt was suppressed by the Austrian army at the end of March 1831.
  4. Prior to the 1848 revolution the movement among the German population in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein against a common constitution with Denmark (the draft constitution was made public on January 28, 1848) was a separatist one and did not go beyond moderate bourgeois opposition. Its aim was to create in the north of Germany yet another small German state dependent on Prussia. During the 1848-49 revolution the situation changed. The events in Germany imparted to the national movement in Schleswig and Holstein a revolutionary, liberation character. The struggle for the secession of these duchies from Denmark became an integral part of the struggle for the national unification of Germany and was resolutely supported by Marx and Engels
  5. The Fundamental Federative Act (Bundesakte) — a part of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna held by European monarchs and their ministers in 1814-15, which established the political organisation of Europe after the Napoleonic wars. This Act was signed on June 8, 1815 and proclaimed a German Confederation consisting initially of 34 independent states and four free cities. The Act virtually sanctioned the political dismemberment of Germany and the maintenance of the monarchical-estate system in the German states. From 1815 to 1866 the central organ of the German Confederation was the Federal Diet consisting of representatives of the German states. The promise to introduce constitutions in all the states of the German Confederation, which was stated in Article 13 of the Bundesakte, was never fulfilled. Article 18 of the Act, which vaguely mentioned a forthcoming drafting of uniform instructions providing for “freedom of the press” in the states of the German Confederation, also remained on paper.